Unless you got the press release for Jonathan Evison’s book, The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving, you’d likely never know that when the author was just a kid, his older sister was killed in a freak car accident the weekend she turned 16.
While this is not the subject of Evison’s new novel, he says the tragedy and its devastating aftermath was what spurred him to write the book—which does deal with major loss and finding a way back to living life after the universe deals you blows you’re not quite sure you can deal with.
“I wrote this book because I needed to,” Evison notes. “Because my sister went on a road trip 39 years ago and never came back. This novel is about the imperative of getting in that van, because you have no choice but to push yourself and drive on, and keep driving in the face of life’s terrible surprises. It’s about the people and the things you gather along that rough road back to humanity.”
In The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving, readers will meet Benjamin Benjamin, a man at the end of his tether. Although we don’t find out until later in the book just what it was that caused Benjamin to lose everything that was dear to him—his wife, his kids, his livelihood—we do know he is now alone in the world, and needs to do something, anything, to make his presence felt.
Enter “The Fundamentals of Caregiving,” a class taking place in the basement of a local church that focuses on everything from inserting catheters to learning to keep physical and emotional distance from clients (patients) those taking the course will be caring for.
When Benjamin meets his first charge, Trev—a 19-year-old in the advanced stages of muscular dystrophy—there’s no immediate clue the ill young man will be the catalyst for huge change.
Trev’s pretty surly at first, but when Benjamin treats him like a person, not just a patient, the teen eventually warms to him and the two become friends—a no-no in the class rules.
While their relationship includes things such as Benjamin helping Trev go to the bathroom and dressing him, it also, increasingly, becomes about both of them taking chances.
The catalyst for this big change happens when Trev and Benjamin are allowed to take a road trip to visit Trev’s estranged father. Set loose on the road—while still making sure they’re within driving distance of major medical facilities in case something goes wrong—the two discover that life isn’t necessarily about getting from point A to point B.
Mostly, it’s the cast of characters they meet along the way that make Benjamin see that things might be getting better.
“I’m harboring a teenage runaway, a very pregnant unwed mother, and a kid whose heart could give out at any minute,” Benjamin says a couple hundred pages in. “I know I’ve lost my mind. But I’m not concerned, because it’s the first thing I’ve lost in a long time that actually feels good.”
By the time I reached the last page, I realized that redemption and release an be found in many things—by writing a book, taking a mind-altering road trip or changing the course of your life simply by taking a different exit. It’s heady stuff, but it’s true.
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